Author: Melinda H. South, Richmond, VA Personal Injury Attorney
What do you have dangling from your rearview mirror? In Virginia, anything hanging in your line of sight could be a reason for a police officer to pull you over.
Remember when fuzzy dice were popular items hanging from the rearview mirror? If you are too young to remember that, what about graduation tassels, crucifixes, or air fresheners? Whatever is hanging from the rearview mirror in your car should be removed in order to prevent a citation.
According to Va. Code 46.2-1054, “It shall be unlawful for any person to drive a motor vehicle on the highway in the Commonwealth with any object or objects, other than a rear view mirror, sun visor or other equipment of the motor vehicle approved by the Superintendent, suspended from any part of the motor vehicle in such a manner as to obstruct the driver’s clear view of the highway through the windshield, the front side windows, or the rear window or to alter a passenger-carrying vehicle in such a manner as to obstruct the driver’s view through the windshield.”
Who knew this was a law? Ask Richard Evans of Chesapeake, Virginia. Mr. Evans was pulled over when the officer noticed a pine-tree-shaped air freshener dangling from his rear view mirror. Mr. Evans was charged with driving on a revoked license and also cited for violating Va. Code 46.2-1054. By the way, a violation of this statute carries a $30 fine plus court costs. On appeal, Judge Randall Smith ruled that this state law is constitutional. Deciding whether an object is an obstruction, “is an individualized assessment, and is properly left to the finder of fact” according to the opinion written by the Judge.
In the case of Mason v. Commonwealth [64 Va. App. 292 (2015)] the Court found that a three-by-five parking pass hanging from a mirror justified a stop. In the case of Freeman v. Commonwealth, the trial judge found that a cluster of air fresheners hanging from the mirror obstructed the drivers’ vision of the highway. The air fresheners were wider than the mirror and suspended four times the width of it. The Virginia Code defines a highway as “the entire width between the boundary lines” of a way used for vehicular travel. In the Mason case, the Court added “overhead highway signs, on-ramps and off-ramps, merge lanes, deceleration lanes, roadways, bridges, intersections, shoulders, pedestrian crosswalks and shared-use paths” to that definition.
There have been several cases where police officers have used this statute to make a lawful stop and were then able to pursue other violations. As these cases move through the appeal process, it will be interesting to see how each court rules since there has not been consistency in the opinions thus far.
About The Author: Melinda South has been a lawyer with Allen & Allen for almost 30 years. She is an experienced legal researcher, assisting in the preparation of firm briefs and legal directives.